Predictions for the coming year have always been a rather lighthearted staple of newspaper editorial pages, but looking ahead to 2021 is something of a challenge.

Mainly because of 2020.

We’re closing the books on a year when the hits just kept on coming. It was an eventful year, to the point that events that, had they occurred in a normal year, would be talked about for years to come.

In 2020, a lot of them have been forgotten. Anybody remember the Saharan dust storm back toward the end of June? Yeah, we had a Saharan dust storm.

We also had a raging pandemic. That was the top story in 2020.

It’ll be the top story in 2021.

Yes, there are vaccines rolling out, but they’ll take time to deploy and it will take time for society to resemble anything near what it was in the ”before times.’’ Putting the COVID-19 genie back in the bottle is going to be a monumental, ongoing public health challenge. And there’s still an awful lot we don’t know about the disease, a lot of quantifying to be done at what it has cost us in lives and economic damage, and considerations of which responses have been effective and which may have caused unintended harm.

By all accounts it’s going to get worse, maybe a lot worse, before it gets better.

But it will get better.

And Sylva and Jackson County are positioned to benefit.

And benefit they will; that’s our prediction for 2021.

Businesses and leaders here have shown remarkable resiliency and nimbleness in adjusting to life in the time of COVID-19. It’s been an emotionally, physically and financially draining year. But it’s also a year in which we were “discovered.’’ Now, the friendly people and stunning natural beauty, combined with a generally clean environment (littering aside) have long drawn people here. But this year also established the area as something of a refuge, a place to perhaps put down roots as opposed to just occasionally visiting.

We expect 2021 to be a year when visitors return in force, and more than a few to stay and contribute to what they’ve fallen in love with.

We hope 2021 will be a year when the tremendous volunteer community here continues to step up to every challenge, from hunger to caring for our young and our elderly. We hope efforts will continue to figure out how to focus on those suffering from the ravages of this pandemic. We hope efforts continue to improve our often-balky broadband, which we’ve painfully once again learned isn’t a luxury but a necessity.

The year ahead is one full of challenges, but we’re confident the people of this community are up to those challenges.

It will be a long hard path, but things will get better.

Just to be safe, an extra helping of black-eyed peas might be in order this year.

Who knows, maybe we’ll even be spared from dust storms.